In this episode of the Market in Motion, we speak with event planning expert Jen Singer, CEO of Jen Singer Events, who has more than 20 years of experience helping business owners host events that excite. She and Mike Woods discuss why and how advisors should go beyond the typical dinner seminar to create a truly unforgettable event for their guests.

Listen in for answers to your event-related questions, including:

  • How to plan something that excites both you and your clients
  • What you can expect to spend
  • Innovative ideas for outside-the-box events

This episode has great insight on event planning for financial advisors. For a fresh perspective on event planning that generates new leads and grows client relationships, this is a must-listen!

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Mike Woods: Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Market in Motion Podcast for Financial Advisors. Today, I'm excited to be joined by Jen Singer, who's the CEO of Jen Singer Events. Hi, Jen.

Jen Singer: Hi.

Mike: Jen has been in the planning business for nearly 20 years. She's planned events for corporate clients, non-profit organizations and private clients, personal clients. Jen, as I was popping around your website yesterday, I saw that you've planned a dinner event for JJ Abrams and Bad Robot Studios, which has done all of the Mission Impossible movies. Those are my favorite.

Jen: I know. He's amazing and super nice guy too.

Mike: Wow.

Jen: Talented and nice.

Mike: Gosh. He's done a few Star Wars movies too, so you're definitely hanging out with the A-listers.

Jen: I try [chuckles].

Mike: We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule today to join us for the podcast. The first question I wanted to help ground our listeners is, give them an overview of your business and how you work with individual clients and small businesses to put on events, to do the event planning for them.

Jen: Yes, great question. We produce corporate and meeting events for our clients, and we aim to create a seamless experience that it not only meets their goals but exceeds their expectations. We aim to help promote or educate or celebrate whatever event they're trying to produce.

Mike: Got you. It really kind of runs the full spectrum then. I talk about small business and individuals, but in this instance, we're really honing in on how financial advisors would be successful with it. For a financial advisory, it would be for client-only events or general public events or community events. Is that fair to say it kind of runs that whole gamut?

Jen: Absolutely. It could be anything from an education seminar to a client appreciation VIP experience to a very large fitness related event. We are based here in San Diego, so we have the luxury of all the beautiful weather and beach activities. We are able to facilitate all of the above and kind of stuff in between as well.

Mike: Got you. Let's jump into it because I wanted to give everyone an idea of the type of event you would help a financial professional create. Let's first talk about a client-only event and then talk more about a public event. A financial advisor comes to and says, hey, I want to do a client-only event. Let me phrase it another way. When they come to you, do they have an idea of what they want to do, or do you help them kind of shape the idea?

Jen: I think it kind of runs the spectrum. Sometimes people are very specific on what they want to do, and they have an idea of like, this is what I want to host. They want to bring some people to the Padres game, or I want to host a networking event. Or they're just like, "I want to bring my clients together. I know I need to do this. I want to do appreciation event, but I don't really have any ideas". We like to sit down with our clients and identify, what is the most important goal? Is the most important goal for you to promote your services or to celebrate your clients, or to even offer some education?

Sometimes it's a combination of those things, but that helps us to create what would be the most effective kind of experience to initiate that would help support what that initial goal is. If they're new clients or maybe they're existing clients that they just want to celebrate their business with them, we tend to see events like that. What we usually recommend to those types of events with those types of client needs is generating an experience that's really unique.

These financial advisors are working with clients that have very busy schedules, producing an event and having them attend. Typically, you want to create an experience that’s going to be unique, where they're going to go, "Wow, that sounds so exciting. I want to go there". We've done a number of private charter boats and off the bay around Coronado Island to behind the scenes tour of distilleries. There's a number a couple of distilleries in downtown San Diego where maybe you get a private tour and then a reception.

We advise when it's those kind of more celebratory events that you try to think outside the box where it's something that's really compelling, that's going to get the number of attendees there so you can nurture the relationships and not have it just be a typical wine and cheese party, that would be really easy for them to say like, yes, that sounds fun but--

Mike: I got plans. I got plans.

Jen: They have your meeting scheduled.

Mike: Yes, but behind the scene tour of a brewery, you don't get those every day.

Jen: No. I think it's sometimes when it's like behind the scenes, when you can be with a brew master or the distillery. There's a number of, obviously, breweries here in San Diego, but distilleries popping up around the country or maybe it's what the winemaker. I think it's when you can craft something that doesn't always have to be-- You don't have to have the strongest connections to know all the right people, but that you can create an experience that maybe somebody can't just go make a reservation on their own, that it’s well thought out and choreograph that it's going to be a lot of fun.

Mike: Got you. A number of years ago, we had a financial advisor that would put on breakfast at Tiffany's.

Jen: I would go.

Mike: Wouldn't talk business at all. The mall would open up an hour ahead of time, and his clients would just come and tour Tiffany's. We've heard of other financial advisors who rent out movie theaters for just a client appreciation event.

Jen: We've done some events at some museums where they've bought out the whole photographic museum for a larger scale event, and people want to go because they want to have a late night museum experience too. I think when it's something that's not the norm that you couldn't just go do, it's more appealing. When you're wanting to build something and have them come, you want to make sure that it gets on their calendar and they do attend.

Mike: That really resonates with me because I think that too often advisors would fall back into what is their comfort zone: doing a presentation on the financial markets, doing a presentation on retirement, talking about something that is really in their wheelhouse whereas their current clients may not. That may sort of kind of maybe, but it's more about the event.

Jen: It seems more times than not, it's about nurturing the relationships so you don't have to do the hard sale at that event, that it could be about just building the relationship that might have nothing to do with the elements of financial advising. It really is the connection that you have with people because we all know that we do business with people that we like. It doesn't always come down to, John says XYZ, so he's the smartest guy ,or she's the smartest girl because she's created this detail plan. It's whether or not we like those people.

Mike: Right. Exactly. Let's switch over to-- It would be more of a client type of event where you would build the relationships. Let's talk about more of a prospecting event, a public event where I would want to meet people that are interested in meeting a financial advisor, want to do it in a setting where they don't feel like they're trapped, where they don't feel like they're coming into their office, where they can kick a tire from afar.

The Emerald publications affirm that many of us are familiar with years ago, they would help advisors put on events, but the price tag would be astronomical. They would have to buy the seminar. They would have to buy the mailer, and then God forbid, they'd get people to come to dinner. The price tag could be worth $10,000 or so for these public types of seminars. Depending on the number of people you get, the ROI never really seemed to work out too well. The R was always a little bit of a struggle. Tell us a little bit about a public event and how to manage those. Give us your thoughts.

Jen: I think it's definitely a lot-- The challenges that your previous clients have experienced I think is completely the norm for the industry, whether it's financial advisors or non-profits or any type of corporate client that we work with too. I think running a kind of fitness event tends to be a fun element. It really draws people out because it could be an activity that could be twofold. It can be networking; it could be fitness. We work with some clients to do some yoga on the beach events, followed by a cocktail reception. You get people there to do something that's not so sales and direct pitch related but could be fun and then incorporate a sales element to support it. We've found a lot of success in these kinds of fitness, whether it's paddle boarding. We work with a company too that does bubble soccer tournaments where you can run around. I think if you can add an element of fun into the event more people are apt to attend and are going to be receptive to follow up and say like, "Wow, that was a really fun experience. I would love to go to their next thing or find out more about what they've got going on".

Mike: Jen, give us an idea about cost. A financial professional is considering a client-only event. Say the one that you mentioned, like doing it in a brewery or a breakfast at Tiffany's. Give us an idea of what they should expect to spend for something like that, the range of costs and compare it to what they would spend to put on one of those yoga type of events that you talked about at the beach where they're looking to draw many more people and have kind of-- They're really doing job interviews at that point. It's a much different environment.

Jen: I think always just a hard and fast calculation could be somewhere in the $75 to $100 range for a client appreciation event. There's a number of factors that could come into play of, how exclusive are you making this? Are you chartering your own boat versus like doing a boat ride with guests on that? Maybe a larger thing where there's other people, a private brewery tour. Maybe you'll have a small section of the brewery versus a complete buyout.

Mike: Got you. Interesting.

Jen: The cost can vary depending on how much you want to invest, but I would say it's typically $75 to maybe $100 per person. When you're looking at the public-facing event, it can typically be around $100 per person as well. Maybe you're not hosting the more elaborate elements of food and beverage or experience, but you're having to bring in some infrastructure. So you're maybe doing a fitness event and you have to do some street closures, and you have to do some permitting to get a hundred people together.

Or you're doing it in a public facility where there's not a lot of tables, or we've had to bring in restrooms. The cost can sometimes add up when you get larger groups together, even when you're not maybe wining dining them.

Mike: Got you. Interesting. What financial advisors should take from this is that having a seminar at a restaurant is one option, but it's just one of hundreds of options.

Jen: Absolutely.

Mike: They need really needed to broaden their thinking. I tell you, I really like the idea of the brewery. I know I'm kind of playing to my favorite, but boy, that behind the scene tour of the brewery just sounds like a ball. Here's a question that I wanted to ask you. FMG has a product called Elevate. When a rep uses Elevate, they get assigned a marketing coordinator. The marketing coordinator will help them put together a wide range of material. The marketing coordinator will be there really if they want to send-- They'll help them send an email out to customers. They'll help them put together a white paper. They'll help them do a wide range of things, and the marketing coordinator can also help them put on events.

When your firm comes in with a financial advisor that has a marketing coordinator on staff or has one that they've contracted with a firm like FMG, how does your firm work with those marketing coordinators to come over the top and make the whole process seamless?

Jen: That's a great question. Typically, we come in to provide more like destination management services where we are really experience in the market, where we have those connections to maybe really unique performers, or we've come into support marketing coordinators find venues and market in San Diego where they don't know all the venues or they don't know the proximity. We are working with the client who was looking to have an event near the convention. We basically supported their event just in the search of the venue and identifying five venues that would be key on what they were wanting to host and being outdoors and like a luau theme.

All these different factors really helped us with the numerous events. We narrowed it down to five, got proposals for them. They were able to take it to their executives to evaluate. We like to support marketing coordinators and companies that may not be based in the market that they're hosting an event in. I think we can be an asset in that respect.

Mike: Got you. Fascinating. Give me an idea. You've touched on a few, but I want to know what are creative events you've done for financial professionals. I say that knowing that we're just completing a Kentucky Derby invite where we're going to help reps put that together and that time for the first Saturday in May, the best two minutes in sports. You can tell, I like the breweries, and I like horse racing. You've got the whole picture of me.

Jen: Yes.

Mike: We helped them do shred days which are amazingly popular because people just don't know what to do, and this really is an avenue for them. Give me an idea of an event that you've helped for a financial professional that would really be out of the box that they wouldn't think about doing.

Jen: I think the most unique one that comes in mind we did about a year or two ago that was at a hotel in La Jolla. The event was like a whole Irish team. They really wanted to do a fun reception and really theme it out where we had Irish dancers, and we had a fabricated Blarney Stonewall. We did some fun food and beverage that was tied to the theme, and we had a band. The food was all really thematic. I think it's fun sometimes to take a theme and really run with it and build a great experience beyond you know.

Mike: Got you. When I think about that, I come back to a state of the market's presentation that we do that the Platinum advisors used quite a bit. We've made it available to other reps as well. It's an awesome presentation to give because it helps people understand what happened in the financial markets, and it gives a little look ahead a little look behind. That doesn't have to be the theme. That can be just really one of what you're using. If somebody came to you and said, "Hey, I want to do this state of the markets, but I think it's kind of boring", how would you help them wrap it into something a little more interesting?

Jen: That's a great question. It would be like a seminar-based situation?

Mike: Yes, a seminar-based. Or would you really tell them that they should have maybe a breaking into two events where they would do this and then afterwards have a reception or something like that? I think the reps always need to have their toolset expanded because knowing as many financial advisors as I do, they tend to go back to the things that work all the time. Your clients may have seen it work, seen it work, seen it work and then maybe get a little exhausted by it. How do you really keep it fresh for them?

Jen: I think in that seminar base, maybe you could offer a unique culinary experience where it's like live chef or action stations where they bring in a pizza oven and they're making pizzas, or it's like food trucks or tacos and tequila. Maybe there's like a cocktail reception to follow and that's thematic, and you can have a lot of fun with that. Maybe it's all business with the seminar and then you're doing luau parties on the mics. We're hosting one in a couple months. Then you're having a luau party, and we're roasting a whole pig at this hotel downtown.

You can really have some fun with it like a culinary element and do something that's a little over the top that could be Instagram worthy and just people walk away and maybe like, "We went to this event, and they roasted a whole pig". Or they were building tacos right there for us or something fun.

Mike: Got you. Interesting. Really, I think when you do something like that where you have a seminar and you have a culinary theme, you can almost do a little AB testing. You could almost say, "What draws more? The seminar or does the culinary?"

Jen: Yes. A seminar I'm sure would be a formative, but you might get some more pull, especially in San Diego, if you're like, "There's going to be tacos". I would probably go to that.

Mike: Yes. Exactly. We're getting near the close here. I looked at your website yesterday, and I was fascinated by step one. You said, as you put people through, you have a three-step process. Step one I got stuck on because it said, "We'll meet with you to discuss your event and details". Put that together now. I'm just not that imaginative on that front. I would come to you really and say, "Hey, I want to entertain my clients, but I have no idea what to do". This is the $64,000 question. How do you give a financial advisor a personality? How would you give me a personality that I could pull off?

Jen: You're not giving yourself enough credit. You have a great personality. I would say come back to what we talked about in the beginning. We just try to identify what are the major key goals. We've identified that it typically falls in the one or three categories: to celebrate, to promote ,or to educate. Sometimes it's a combination of all three, or maybe it's a little bit more of the celebrate and just a tiny bit of the promotion element. Typically, no matter if it's a corporate client, a non-profit group, financial group, it can fall into one of those three categories. Then we look at the market that you're in.

I think you'd want to play off the strengths of the market that you're in. If you're in New York, play off of elements that are in New York. You're in San Francisco. There's a lot of attributes to San Francisco that are key. Just see what are the goals that you want to achieve and then how do we go back from that. Just knowing in our conversation that we've had now, I can get that you're a great beer enthusiast. You also like Kentucky Derby. I might recommend a private event at the Del Mar Fairground too. We could charter a bus. We could bring some of your clients, get a private box. Just in our conversation right now get elements or what gets you excited and might get your clients excited too to attend.

Mike: That's interesting, what gets you excited. You can help them really draw out their passion that can help connect with their clients on a whole different level?

Jen: Yes, because I think if you're excited about the event too, then you'll be excited to help promote it and you'll want to invite everybody to go versus maybe if you're just hosting the run of the mill seminar, you might not want to talk it up so much. If you're doing something really cool that you haven't done that's new and fun, you'll get excited. I think that'll show through when you're telling your clients, whether emailing them or calling on the phone and you're saying like, "Jane, you got to come to this event. We're going to do the super cool thing. We're going to get a private tour of this brewery, and you don't want to miss it". That'll definitely [inaudible 00:28:53].

Mike: Got you. Let's give it to people again. You either want to celebrate; you want to promote. Give it to them again.

Jen: Or educate.

Mike: Educate. That's it, financial advisors. You want to determine at the highest level what you want to do. Do you want to celebrate? Do you want to promote? Do you want to educate? Run it through those filters, and then you'll be that much further in the decision-making process.

Jen: Yes, it'll help you identify the steps to take along the process. If things come up and you're like, "Does this really align with the goal to celebrate? If it's just all about celebration, should we bombard them with a bunch of collateral material? If that's not what it's about, then let's wait on the collateral material. Let's wait on a big talking present-- a big open remarks. If it's really just about celebration, then let's make it like a fun party". It definitely helps guide the planning process, whether it's coming through logistics that you offer, what you're going to facilitate when you come back to what's the ultimate goal.

Mike: Got you. Awesome. Jen, this has been awesome. A lot of great stuff for a financial advisor to consider to really broaden their thinking about events and how they put them together. Greatly appreciate your time today. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. Any thoughts you'd like to leave financial advisors with?

Jen: I would just come back to the idea that do an event that you can get excited about, and think about an event that's going to be unique for your clients so they get it on their calendar and they're going to show up and attend and maybe be a continuing client or a new client for them.

Mike: Got you. Awesome. Jen, thanks so much. Everybody, thanks so much. We'll be in touch with the next podcast. It will be coming up shortly. Thanks, everybody.

Jen: Thank you.